REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
To the surprise of no one, former Massachusetts's Governor Mitt Romney won the Iowa Straw Poll yesterday. The event, a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party, is considered an early test of organizing power in the state that will kick off the presidential nominating season this winter.
Romney collected 31 percent of votes cast yesterday, but turnout was low, raising questions about how excited Republicans really were about their choices. The straw poll was also notable for it's no-shows; Front-runners like Rudy Giuliani and John McCain chose not to compete, as did candidate-in-waiting Fred Thompson.
NPR's David Greene sent this report from Ames, Iowa.
DAVID GREENE: With all the news about updated voting machines and new technology, here we were at the Iowa Straw Poll and a voting machine malfunctioned. So it was onto a recount that delayed everything more than an hour, but finally…
Unidentified Man: And number one, the governor of Massachusetts - the past Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney.
GREENE: Romney quickly headed to a spot outside Iowa State's basketball gym so he could talk to reporters.
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican Presidential Candidate; Former Massachusetts Governor): I am delighted. I've tried losing and I've tried winning, and I do like winning better. With that, we'll take any questions you may have.
GREENE: And one of those questions was about the low turnout. There were reports that as many as 40,000 people would be here, but only about 14,000 votes were cast. Romney shook that off.
Mr. ROMNEY: Not a huge turnout. It's really not a huge turnout. I don't think people expected a huge number particularly with a hundred-heat index.
GREENE: Romney finished with over 31 percent of the votes, the same percentage as George W. Bush got here in 1999 and only a few points better than Romney has been getting in recent polls in Iowa. Finishing second was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee with 18 percent. He declared victory too.
Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Republican Presidential Candidate; Former Arkansas Governor): Tonight is a victory. I mean, every one - the conventional wisdom was that Romney would get more than 50 percent of the vote; that we would be in 4th or 5th place. Look at the numbers. We won tonight.
GREENE: Right behind Huckabee was another social conservative, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, and behind him, yet another, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who had been criticized for dwelling on one issue: immigration.
The night was disappointing for Ron Paul, whose 5th place finish suggested his ability to draw crows and Internet support may not translate into votes. Behind him was former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. Early in the day, he told voters he made a serious push in Iowa.
Mr. TOMMY THOMPSON (Republican Presidential Candidate; Former Wisconsin Governor): And I'm the one candidate, ladies and gentlemen, that just come off from 20 days traveling to all 99 counties, 110 cities, and I did it because I wanted to go in to the homes and the cafes of people all over Iowa.
GREENE: Thompson even said if he didn't finish first or second, he'd drop out. In the end, he came in 6th.
The two candidates not attending but still on the ballot, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, each got about 1 percent, roughly the same as Fred Thompson who hasn't even declared his running.
Unidentified Group: (Chanting) M-I-T-T, Mitt, Mitt for me. M-I-T-T, Mitt, Mitt for me.
GREENE: All day long, the tent where Romney gathered his troops where buzzling. The campaign handed out battery-powered fans to supporters like Mel Adama(ph).
Mr. MEL ADAMA (Mitt Romney supporter): It's a fan for people that are going to get warm. And I'm sure it's probably going to get fairly warm today. Here you go.
GREENE: Ah, it feels good. I appreciate that. (Unintelligible).
As it turns out, Adama was President Bush's campaign chair in a county in western Iowa. So this year, he's already been visited by a number of the Republican hopefuls.
Mr. ADAMA: A lot of the candidates come to the villages here - all of them.
Mr. ADAMA: All of them. Yes.
GREENE: Adama said the straw poll is a serious test for the candidates who come.
Mr. ADAMA: It shows organizational strengths by someone who is not from Iowa.
GREENE: Nearby, Mike Huckabee was entertaining his backers with music. He's the bass guitarist in a band called Capital Offense(ph).
Mr. HUCKABEE: We hope you'll enjoy "Taking Care of Business."
(Soundbite of music, "Taking Care of Business")
GREENE: And with another of the calendar rituals completed, the long 2008 presidential campaign rocks on.
David Greene, NPR News, Des Moines.
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